Introduction: Take a Dresser From Drab to Fab With Common Dresser Repairs and Chalk Paint!
If you’ve seen some of my other furniture Instructables, you know how much I LOVE bringing new life to family furniture. In this case, we’re actually redoing the dresser that I grew up with. It was built in 1979—and the 4+ decades of wear certainly showed on it.
As no two dresser makeovers are exactly like, we’ve structured this Instructable to show you how we fixed some common issues people run into when restoring old furniture—from structural issues to broken drawers, adding legs, painting and more.
There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started!!
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2 - 2x4s
Simple Green - https://amzn.to/2InoraX
ShopVac - https://amzn.to/35fLMUJ
Drill - https://amzn.to/375oC1y
Circular saw – https://amzn.to/3bCH4jK
Bondo Body Filler (auto) - https://amzn.to/3mZOHH4
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Air compressor – https://amzn.to/2yIY8qt
Screws - https://amzn.to/2U9lInF
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Spray paint (we used gloss white) – https://amzn.to/2JNHlIh
Super glue - https://amzn.to/2AyK6Zk
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6” Waddell dresser legs - https://amzn.to/35bcrSm
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Step 1: Clean the Dresser
Over the last decade alone, this dresser had sat in two different garages and a storage unit, waiting to be loved again. That doesn’t count the years of use it got before then, and let’s just say that the dust, dirt and spiderwebs were serious. While it’s always good to do a final clean before you paint as well, we started with a good scrub and vacuum so we could see for sure what we were dealing with.
Gather the following materials: Simple Green, shop towels, shop vac, screwdriver
Follow these steps:
1. Take out all drawers and doors on the unit.
2. Remove all hardware with a screwdriver or drill. 3.
4. Set hardware and screws aside if you plan on reusing any of it.
5. Use a dry shop towel to knock any loose dirt and dust off of the dresser.
6. Vacuum the dresser with a shop vac—top, sides and underneath the unit and all drawers.
7. Clean the unit and all exterior facings with Simple Green to remove dirt and grime.
Step 2: Fix Detached Dresser Side
The majority of the structural issues with this dresser were on one side and the bottom. Busted veneer, torn particleboard and a significant separation of one of the sides. In this step, we’ll focus on the side that was pulling away—no doubt due to the dresser being drug across carpets as it was moved over the years.
Gather the following materials: wood glue, ratcheting straps, clamps, mallet, shims, drill, screws
Follow these steps:
1. Flip the dresser upside down.
Tip: If you’re working in a garage, it may be helpful to place a moving blanket or piece of cardboard down so you don’t further damage the top of the unit.
2. Remove the backing board so you can work from the front and back of the unit.
3. Use a brush or thin nozzle to drip wood glue into any cracks that need to be sealed.
4. Use a combination of ratcheting straps and quick release clamps to pull the side of the unit into position. A mallet may also be helpful for any stubborn pieces.
5. For extra pressure, insert wood shims underneath the ratcheting straps.
6. Drill screws into any areas where possible to add in stability.
7. Let sit overnight to cure.
Step 3: Add Support for Dresser Legs
Another thing this dresser needed BIG time was some legs. As it was a kid’s dresser, it was really too short to function as one for adults. After photoshopping a few different options, we settled on 6” wooden legs. However, the dresser wasn’t originally designed to accept or support legs, so we created a 2x4 frame underneath to support the legs.
Gather the following materials: 2x4s, measuring tape, pencil, miter saw, pocket hole jig, wood screws, legs, leg attachment plates, drill
Follow these steps:
1. Remove any support pieces underneath your dresser that will impede the new structural frame.
2. Cut 2x4s to length so they will create a full rectangular frame.
Note: You will need two sides, one front and one back.
3. Use the pocket hole jig to make two holes at the end of each board.
4. Butt the boards up to each other in a rectangle and attach using wood screws.
5. If your 2x4 frame is not sitting flush on the bottom of the dresser, cut 4 small pieces to act as braces between the bottom of the original dresser and the frame.
6. Secure braces with screws.
7. Secure full frame to dresser with screws.
Note: As we knew we were going to add exterior trim in the next step, we screwed it in from the outside.
8. If you’re adding legs to your dresser, now is a great time to attach the leg plates using the provided screws.
Step 4: Cover Damaged Veneer and Particleboard
The next big issue with this dresser was some seriously damaged particleboard and veneer at the bottom of the unit. As it was more than just the veneer that was damaged (which could be removed and replaced), we opted to cover the damaged pieces with some custom trim. Luckily, this dresser already had a defining line at the bottom that we could accentuate with the trim.
Gather the following materials: thin plywood, circular saw, miter saw, measuring tape, power sander, wood glue, super glue, clamps
Follow these steps:
1. Determine the measurements for your trim.
Note: We opted to make the trim wrap all the way around the dresser for a uniform look.
2. Use a circular saw to rip the plywood to the appropriate height, and a miter saw to cut it to length.
3. Sand the unit where the trim will be attached.
4. Sand the trim at the cut lines to ensure that it is smooth.
5. Use a combination of wood glue and super glue to attach the board. The super glue helps provide an immediate clamp, while the wood glue will provide lasting hold.
6. Wipe up any glue that has seeped out with a shop towel.
7. Add clamps, where possible.
8. Let glue cure.
9. Add wood filler to any seams and sand once the filler is dry.
Step 5: Fix Broken Drawer Corners
Another common issue with old dressers is broken drawer corners. When I saw that my beloved dresser had a seriously broken corner, I thought that it couldn’t be saved. I was already planning to just remove the drawer and use baskets instead, which made me sad. However, we found a really cool method of fixing broken drawer corners that we tested, and it worked!!
Gather the following materials: vaseline, hot glue gun, Bondo body filler, putty knife, sand paper, wood filler, knife, wood glue, clamps
Follow these steps:
1. Use wood glue to secure any loose pieces on the drawer. Clamp until the glue cures.
2. Find a dresser with a good corner that you can use to make a mold.
3. Spread Vaseline over the area that you need to mold.
4. Drip hot glue over the area, ensuring that you get the full front and back of the corner.
5. Let hot glue cool for approximately 30 minutes.
6. Remove hot glue mold from dresser.
Note: This method will remove some paint from the “good” drawer. We didn’t mind since we were planning to paint the whole thing anyway.
7. Clean Vaseline off of good drawer.
8. Grab drawer that needs to be repaired.
9. Lube the hot glue mold with Vaseline.
10. Mix Bondo Body Filler (auto) with the activating cream according to the instructions.
11. Layer Bondo mixture onto broken drawer corner and secure mold over it.
12. Immediately remove any Bondo that spills out of mold.
13. Let sit for 15 minutes.
14. Remove mold and use a combination of a knife and sandpaper to finish shaping the new drawer corner.
15. If there are any bubbles or uneven areas, use wood filler to smooth them out.
Step 6: Paint the Dresser With Chalk Paint
Whew! Now it’s time to really see all your hard work come together. Nothing gives a piece of furniture new life like a fresh coat of paint. For this, we decided to use a chalk paint for a few reasons: we’ve never used it before, and we were curious about the ultra matte finish.
Gather the following materials: paint, brush, roller, painter’s tape, tray, Polycrylic (optional), foam brush, wood filler, sandpaper
Follow these steps:
1. If needed, clean your dresser one more time.
2. Add wood filler to any rough spots, as well as any hardware holes you don’t plan to reuse.
3. Sand wood-filled spots, once cured.
4. Sand the rest of the unit, if desired.
Note: Chalk paint is known for not needing this as a part of the prep work; however, we opted to sand since the unit was in such disrepair and we wanted to ensure that all of the extra grime was removed before painting.
5. Paint the dresser legs using the brush.
6. Paint the bottom of the unit while it is still upside down.
7. Flip the unit over and use the brush to paint any areas with ridges or trim, as well as any corners.
8. Use a roller or wide brush to paint any flat surfaces.
Note: we used a roller, which left a bit of texture on the unit. We were okay with that, but if you’re looking for a silky smooth finish, you may want to consider either a sponge roller or brush.
9. Re-coat according to the time indicated on your paint. We ultimately did three coats in most places.
Tip: For added flair, you can consider adding a raised stencil. We will have an intractable on that and will cross-link it here once published.
It is recommended to seal chalk paint, either with a wax or sealant. As this dresser won’t get too much use, we opted to only seal the top with Polycrylic. To do that:
1. Lightly sand the top of the dresser with 220 grit sandpaper.
2. Remove all sanding dust with a cloth.
3. Paint poly onto surface in thin layers using a brush or rag.
4. Repeat sanding, removing dust and sealing for three layers, leaving 2 hours in between each layer.
5. Let poly cure for 24 hours before handling.
Step 7: Add Finishing Touches
Whew! Just a few more steps before you’re done. All you have to do is put the hardware on, reattach the backing, and add any hinges. If you’re re-using your hardware, then you’ll want to either clean it up or add a fresh coat of paint. We re-used the hinges but added new drawer and door pulls.
Gather the following materials: hinges, drawer pulls (we used dock cleats), drill, bolts/screws, spray paint, pneumatic nail gun, air compressor
Follow these steps:
1. Clean or paint the hardware you plan to reuse. We opted to spray paint the hinges and magnet receiver for the door.
2. If you’re adding new drawer pulls, measure, mark and drill new holes.
3. Add drawer pulls, ensuring that it is secured tightly.
4. If there’s a door on your unit, add hinges, metal plate and receiving magnet.
Step 8: Enjoy!
Truthfully, it is A LOT of work to bring an old dresser back to life, particularly one that is in such dire condition to begin with. But, the sentimental value of this dresser made all of the time and sweat worth it. When I showed it to my mom, she was stunned—she didn’t even realize it was the same dresser. But it is, and I love that I again have a super sturdy dresser that will hopefully last for 40 more years.
We really hope that this instructable gave you some good insight into how to fix some common issues with a dresser that you want to restore. If you liked this project, please head over to JustMightDIY.com for more tips, tutorials, back stories and more. And if you’re interested in checking out more of our tutorials, check out our Instructables profile or head over to our YouTube channel.
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